Jewish Agency offers security at Kotel if government ‘won’t protect Jews’

"If the Israeli government won’t protect Jews at the Kotel [Western Wall], then perhaps Jewish Agency security teams need to be placed there."

 JEWS PRAY at the Western Wall on Jerusalem Day, last month. (photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)
JEWS PRAY at the Western Wall on Jerusalem Day, last month.
(photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)

Senior officials of American Jewish organizations have expressed their willingness to deploy security guards at Ezrat Israel, the egalitarian prayer section of the Western Wall.

The Jewish Agency’s Board of Governors engaged the organizations in a heated discussion on Monday, following the Rosh Hodesh service at the egalitarian prayer section two weeks ago when haredi youth were physically violent toward Reform and Conservative Jews at a bar mitzvah service.

Will the Jewish Agency step in?

Dov Ben-Shimon, CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ, participated in the discussion. “Perhaps it’s time to say clearly and truthfully that if the Israeli government can’t or won’t protect Jews at the holiest site, the Kotel, then perhaps security teams need to be placed there,” he tweeted on Tuesday.

“Since every plea, negotiation, agreement and reasonable expectation appears to be mistaken or overturned, perhaps we should work to ensure that Jewish families won’t be scared of violence and harassment at the Western Wall,” he said. “After all, if we defend Jewish life in Europe and around the world, surely we should be committed to protecting Jews in Jerusalem, too?”

Mainstream and liberal American Jewish organizations have been urging the BOG to vote on a proposal to enforce security at Ezrat Israel, as they maintain that Israeli authorities haven’t effectively managed to minimize violence at the plaza.

“It is clear that there is a need for a renewed and enhanced dialogue with security authorities so no Jews need to be afraid while at the Kotel.”

CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ Dov Ben Shimon
 A WOMAN holds up a Torah scroll as members of Women of the Wall and the Conservative and Reform movements chant and pray on Rosh Hodesh Adar II at the Kotel, in March.   (credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90) A WOMAN holds up a Torah scroll as members of Women of the Wall and the Conservative and Reform movements chant and pray on Rosh Hodesh Adar II at the Kotel, in March. (credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)

“It is clear that there is a need for a renewed and enhanced dialogue with security authorities so no Jews need to be afraid while at the Kotel,” Ben-Shimon said on Tuesday.

“There are ways to be creative and thoughtful about how we negotiate for Jewish safety. If as a Jewish people we require safety in countries such as Europe and others, we can come to a measurable agreement with Israeli authorities. It’s disgraceful that Jewish families are defenseless when they come to pray at the Kotel.”

During the services on June 30, dozens of haredi youths employed whistles to disrupt the service and called the bar mitzvah boy a “Christian” and a “Nazi.” One of them even blew his nose on a page torn from a Conservative siddur seconds before clashes broke out.

The Orthodox response

Some have blamed Rabbi Pesach Lerner, head of the Eretz HaKodesh Party, accusing him of “promoting violence and hate” at the Kotel during the BOG meeting. Lerner denied this claim, saying that his party had nothing to do with the demonstration two weeks ago.

One Orthodox member of the board asked a question that was outside of the discussion. “What world did these young haredi boys grow up in?” asked the member. “I remember growing up as a kid to the only Orthodox family in our neighborhood, and we were taught to love every Jew no matter what their affiliation is. What are these haredi boys learning that made them act so violently?”

Several Orthodox leaders said that they were “surprised” when they heard from Rabbi Rick Jacobs, president of the Union for Reform Judaism (URJ), that these violent incidents have been going on for years at the egalitarian prayer section. “I had no idea that there were so many violent incidents at Ezrat Israel,” one of them said. “I am shocked by the chillul hashem (desecration of God’s name).”

During the discussion, other Orthodox leaders said that although they are against the violence at the Western Wall, they would not vote for a statement calling for the Israeli government to implement the Western Wall compromise. They emphasized the need for security at the Western Wall, but stressed that they will not promote the Western Wall compromise.

The resolution

The BOG voted for a resolution on Tuesday that stated “the Jewish Agency will promptly develop, approve and implement a detailed work plan for the above-mentioned actions.”

Among other things, they have seen the need to call upon the “Jewish Agency’s appropriate committees and professionals to promptly report to the Board of Governors on the actions that can be taken to ensure that all Jews are welcomed to Ezrat Yisrael, as they are all members of the Jewish people’s family.”

In addition, it was stated that the BOG “endorses the vision of the newly elected executive chair Doron Almog, and the newly elected chair of the Board of Governors, Mark Wilf, to strive for the right of every Jew to pray at Ezrat Yisrael according to his/her belief, as part of their vision to advance love and fellowship among the Jewish people family.”

The BOG Board also demanded that the relevant government ministries take action to stop these disturbances. “The Jewish Agency’s view [is] that those ministries are responsible for ensuring the security of those using the Ezrat Yisrael, [and] therefore in charge of taking all legal actions to prevent such disturbances,” the BOG said.

Important to Israel-Diaspora relations

“There’s nothing that matters more to me and to my partner, President and CEO Eric Fingerhut, than the strength of the Israel-Diaspora relationship and derech eretz (proper behavior) – the respect for all Jews and however they choose to worship,” Jewish Federations of North America chairwoman Julie Platt said on Tuesday. “Those two matters go hand in hand. The ability for someone to pray when the arrangements were made and the space used were all with permission; to be treated with respect and for their form of worship to be respected.

“That speaks to a global respect for the streams of Judaism, so it’s not just a respect for pluralism. That is the fabric of Judaism and the Jewish community of North America, which I represent as chair of JFNA. It also speaks to the respect and honor paid to the streams of Judaism that are here in Israel, where I am speaking to you. It’s for us, Diaspora Jews, what we wish for in the Diaspora.”

According to Platt, this refers to Jewish families around the world putting “their resources into bringing their family – their parents, grandparents and children – to celebrate a simha with significance, [such] as a bar and bat mitzvah, in Israel. But then, to have it disrupted, stands in the way of the kind of Zionism that we are trying to create for Israel and the Diaspora.”

Platt said that the violence at the Western Wall was what “made us want to bring this up” when she spoke on Monday at the BOG with immense fervor.

“That’s what made me want to speak in front of the Board of Governors, to understand that the ultimate goal is the strength of Zionism and the strength of the Israel-Diaspora relations,” she said. “And this is an obstruction to this connection. Our dream and wish is that more families want to come [to Israel] and celebrate their smahot, and that the government of Israel will protect their safety, security and their ability to pray.”